The mission of the Bach Festival Society is to bring excellent vocal, choral and instrumental music to the widest possible audience in southwest Michigan through performances of major works by the Bach Festival Chorus and orchestra, the sponsorship of renowned vocal artists and choral groups and educational outreach activities. The Bach Society focuses on the music of J. S. Bach and composers from the Renaissance to the contemporary era.
Dr. Chris Ludwa, Music Director
As Director of College Singers, Lux Esto Chamber Choir, and Kalamazoo Bach Festival, Dr. Chris Ludwa is an advocate for all types of singing, be it contemporary a cappella, musical theatre, opera, oratorio, or pop music. Named Artistic Director of Bay View Music Festival in 2007, Ludwa leads a 100-voice festival choir, 16-voice collegiate chamber choir, orchestra, and musical theatre productions that include such epic works as West Side Story, Ragtime, Titanic, and Les Miserables. In addition, he oversees over 30 faculty artists, 150 college musicians, 10 theatre technicians, and over 100 volunteers as the festival produces nearly 50 performances over two months each summer. He also directs Kaleidosong, a professional vocal ensemble he founded in 2014, which specializes in a huge range of styles such as Palestrina, R&B, jazz, American songbook, and spirituals.
Before moving to Kalamazoo, Ludwa served as the Director of Music at The Federated Church Cleveland, where he led 4 ensembles and presented an annual concert series, and maintained a voice studio for exceptional singers enrolled in the prestigious performing arts academies and high schools. At Indiana University, Ludwa conducted ensembles that ranged from the prestigious University Singers to the Grammy-nominated Singing Hoosiers, each to great acclaim. While pursuing his doctorate in Conducting, he guest conducted for both Butler University and Webster University.
In 2012, Ludwa was hired as the Director of Performing Arts and Vocal Jazz Director for Cuyahoga Community College in Cleveland, OH, where he was responsible for programming a subscription series of award-winning artists such as Diana Krall, Bobby McFerrin, Harry Connick, and the New York Voices. Utilizing the world-class recording studios in the Tommy LiPuma Center for the Arts, his ensembles not only performed but recorded, giving students a unique experience working in the recording industry alongside engineers, professors, and music industry pillars. He also developed a series of interdisciplinary experiences that included dance, music, and drama, including a program called Mix, Blackbox Club, and several others. An advocate for youth involvement in music, he has hosted OMEA Solo and Ensemble competition, produced workshops for local high schools, been featured as a guest clinician, prepared choirs for contest, and judged numerous high school choral competitions from concert to show choir. He remains actively engaged in numerous service organizations such as ACDA, OMEA, Americans for the Arts, and the Association of Performing Arts Presenters, where he finishing his tenure as a leadership fellow and on the committee to plan the international conference held in NYC each January. He served as Repertoire and Standards chair for Indiana chapter of ACDA while working at Meridian Street United Methodist Church as their Director of Music.
In Indianapolis, he served for 10 years as Artistic Director of Encore Vocal Arts, a 36-member, professional caliber vocal ensemble. While there, the group made three recordings and completed ten seasons of innovative concert programming, establishing itself with a unique voice in innovative, multi-disciplinary presentations. Ludwa commissioned new orchestrations of numerous works, hoping this would open access to this literature beyond a performance with piano alone. Major projects of the ensemble included several tours; a new setting of Haydn’s Creation in Spanish as part of a Latino-Hispanic initiative; a seven-school collaborative performance of Brahms’ Ein Deutsches Requiem in German; a tribute to Fred Waring as the father of popular choral music and the predecessor of the show choir movement; and Cole Porter Radio Hour, a biographical revue that received rave reviews and over 7 performances to date. An avid fan of increasing the accessibility of choral music, he has conducted Carmina Burana three times, once with aerial dance and another using fire to enhance the elemental connections in the piece. Ludwa has also dedicated much time to producing music by Indiana composer Malcolm Dalglish, whose Appalachian-based choral music features unique interpretive and stylistic techniques.
In addition to spending much of his time with choral ensembles, Chris is a seasoned orchestral conductor, having held positions with Bloomington Pops Orchestra, Bloomington Symphony, Columbus Indiana Philharmonic, and Terre Haute Symphony Orchestra. As a devotee of the musical theatre, he has worked for Indianapolis Opera as Apprentice Conductor/Outreach Administrator and guest conducted for numerous organizations including Butler University Lyric Theatre, Webster University Opera Theatre, Indiana Repertory Theatre, Edyvean Repertory Theatre, Indianapolis Civic Theatre, College Light Opera Company. Having developed a fondness for old theatres, he was instrumental in the renovation of historic John M. Hall Auditorium in Petoskey, Michigan and spearheaded a massive initiative in Indianapolis to re-open a 700-seat auditorium after having been dormant for 40 years. The hall is in use today by several Indianapolis arts organizations and continues to work toward a full renovation.
After witnessing the power of the arts to motivate and create community, Ludwa is convinced that the wave of the future is to integrate aesthetic process into education, business, government, and daily life. In this role, he has worked for Cuyahoga Community College, Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, the Leonard Bernstein-inspired Artful Learning School Reform Model at the GRAMMY Foundation, and International School of Indiana. Ludwa has also participated in the Thought Leader Forum at the Banff Centre in Alberta, Canada, a leading institution in the application of aesthetic process in leadership and editing his book on that topic. He has taught arts integration courses, workshops, and lectures at the Bay View Association, Butler University, and Indiana University and is a recipient of the Lilly Endowment-funded Creative Renewal Fellowship Grant, which he used to explore drumming, communication, and values in Ghana, West Africa.
He is married to Melissa, who is a constant source of inspiration, fun, and intellectual conversation. She is a Music Together(R) teacher and enjoys connecting the dots between her counseling background and musical interests. They are parents of two boys, Alexandre and Elliott.
Bach Festival Chorus
The BACH FESTIVAL CHORUS is the core of the Kalamazoo Bach Festival with a membership of over 65 singers who share a love of great music. The Chorus employs five lead singers who also serve as Bach Festival soloists. The rest of the Chorus is made up of volunteers who come from the entire Southwest Michigan area. Many members of the Chorus maintain active schedules as soloists in churches and other venues throughout the community. Others are simply brought to the Chorus by their love of music. The choir performs three concerts annually: the holiday concert in December, a Winter concert featuring songs about the power of love, and the Spring concert. The Bach Festival Chorus has performed major choral works of J.S. Bach and composers indebted to his legacy, from Mendelssohn, Mozart, Brahms, and Haydn, to more modern composers such as Rachmaninoff and Bernstein. The Chorus has collaborated with the Arcato Chamber Ensemble and the Kalamazoo Philharmonia under Maestro Andrew Koehler, and the Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra under Maestros Yoshimi Takeda and Raymond Harvey, to present works by Handel, Shostakovich, Brahms, Mozart, Orff, and Praulins.
One of Kalamazoo’s oldest musical organizations, the Bach Festival Society was founded in 1946 by Henry Overley, Professor of Music at Kalamazoo College, who wanted to bring “town and gown” together to experience the joy of making music and to create something sublime — in particular, to recreate the choral and instrumental music of J. S. Bach and his contemporaries.
Participants included visiting artists, local professional musicians, college and high school students, and many amateur performers. A performance of Bach’s St. Matthew Passion inaugurated the Festival in March 1947. In its early years, the season consisted of a Christmas concert and a spring festival week, featuring many distinguished guest artists.
Since 1947, the Festival has grown and expanded, due to the active involvement of the community: now year-long, it includes “Bach-to-School” educational programs, Bach Legacy Lectures, a “Bach-Around-the-Block” organ crawl, a Young Artist Competition and Concert, a High School Choral Festival, master classes for young singers, and performances with the Kalamazoo Symphony, as well as our traditional Christmas concert and gala finale concert.
The Festival’s repertoire has expanded to include not only the music by Bach and his contemporaries, but also nineteenth-and twentieth-century composers. The Festival concludes its season each year with the performance of a major symphonic choral work of Bach or another master composer (Mendelssohn’s Elijah in 1998, Mozart’s Requiem in 1999 and 2006, Haydn’s Lord Nelson Mass in 2000, Brahms’ German Requiem in 2002, Bach’s B Minor Mass in 2003 and 2007, Mozart’s Solemn Vespers in 2004, Handel’s Messiah, Parts II and III in 2005 and Rachmaninoff's Vespers in 2008).
Our mission is to bring together people of all ages and diverse backgrounds and provide them with an opportunity to experience the joy of making music by performing some of the best works in the choral repertoire.
Cori Somers, Executive Director [SEND EMAIL]
Grace Gheen, Director of Choral Operations [SEND EMAIL]
Linda Van Dis, Director of Patron Services [SEND EMAIL]
Mary Foley-Wilson, Financial Manager
2019-20 Board of Directors
James Burkett, President
Deborah Russell,Vice President
Kirsten Haverberg, Secretary
Mary Beth Birch, Emerita
Dr. Romeo Phillips
David Scarrow, Emeritus
Richard Van Enk
Press and Media
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Christmas concert artwork:
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